Friday, 26 July 2013

"Understanding the causes, course and consequences of the First World War" ...

Diane Lees, Director of the Imperial War Museum says:

" can't understand the world today unless you understand the 'causes, course and consequences' of the First World War.

I agree with Diane.  It took me a few years but I figured out some time ago that most of the social problems of our society seem to have had their origins in a general inability to deal with the aftermath - especially regarding the mental health of those returning from the areas of combat.   With the knowledge we have today of 'combat stress' and 'post traumatic stress' it is hard for us to remember that in the early part of the 20th Century not as much was known and only a few people were pioneering the work in that field.

I am still finding out so much about WW1 that I did not know.  I think I have already mentioned Terence Zuber's amazing, eye-opening book "The Battle of the Frontiers Ardennes 1914"* which is extremely helpful and illuminating when it comes to understanding the causes of the First World War.

*(published by Tempus Publishing, Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK, 2007)

Talking of the Aftermath - have you looked at Mary Riter Hamilton's paintings?   Mary is definitely one of my Inspirational Women.   She travelled from Canada where she was already an established artist of international repute (she was turned down as an official WW1 artist on the grounds that she was a woman) to Flanders in 1919 in order to paint what she saw for the Canadian Amputees Association.  She stayed for three years, living in a tin hut and painting the most amazing pictures of the mess left.  Mary lived among the Chinese workers who cleared away that mess and she had some quite hair-raising adventures.  It was a real 'no man's land' - there was little to eat and not much water because the water table had been contaminated very early on in the War - corpses, dead horses, etc. caused toxic substances to leak into the water table. Apparently all the water needs of the troops, horses, hospitals, etc. had to be transported from England in barrels and boiled before use  It is hard to envisage when you go to that area now and see it all green and tended what it must have been like - especially for those who had to flee their homes.   Can you imagine when they returned how they must have felt.   And it all happened again barely 21 years later.

Mary was so horrified by what she saw and experienced that she never painted pictures again instead turning to textile design.  She donated her paintings to the Canadian National Archive where they are carefully stored.

Find out more here 

The picture shown is entitled "Sanctuary Wood" - with grateful thanks to the Canadian National Archives - just one of 350 paintings that Mary painted while in France.

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